An MA in Meltdowns
I’ve made a vow never to read another academic article about meltdowns. I guess over the past 20 years, I’ve lapped up anything I could lay my hands on, in the quest to make life during a meltdown a little bit easier for all.
On the whole, I know what triggers a meltdown for Steven. It is usually an unexpected change. Or something unexpected happening. Or something not happening that he was expecting to happen. Not being understood is also a trigger. Sometimes I hear Steven in the bath telling his support worker a comp!icated story about Suggs and his big hat. I can hear Steven descend into a meltdown, simply because the other guy doesn’t get all the references. It happens with me when I’m dog tired and can’t instantly recall the names of all the people getting off the train in Unseen Bean.
Once a meltdown is underway, it can be a very hairy experience. There is always the possibility that you may be hit. Or that something will get broken. Or that you will go violently insane with 6 hours of repetitive talking. Its the latter that does for me. In those moments, Steven can’t process what he is saying, let alone any response you might say. So, verbal communication during a meltdown is worse than pointless – it adds to and exacacerbates the meltdown. The only thing to do is silent containment – to stop Steven hurting himself or others.
Where I disagreed with the Unit is that they always maintained there was something willful about Steven’s behavior during a meltdown (although they wouldn’t actually acknowledge he had meltdowns). So subsequently, they held that all the behavior during a meltdown could be eradicated. I’m not saying this is the case for everyone but in Steven’s case its a nonsense.
When Steven comes out of a meltdown he has hardly any recall of what just happened. The most he can say is that “Steven Neary’s had his silly head on”. Trying to probe why he had his silly head on gets nowhere.
This morning it started upon awakening. My guess is that there was a change to the bath routine. One of the support workers is having housing problems and I let him stay over last night. He thought he was being helpful because he started to do the bath before the normal guy showed up. An hour later, there was water all over the bathroom floor, a bowl of breakfast fruit salad up the living room wall and the TV broken. By now, the usual Wednesday routine is in tatters and it is going to take some retrieval.
Could the meltdown have been prevented? Probably not. Could we have minimized the damage? Possibly. Steven broke the TV whilst the support worker was in the garden hanging the washing out. Unbearable though it may be, it is best not to leave Steven on his own during a meltdown – anything could happen.
So after having to support the support worker, go to Curry’s to buy a new TV and clear up the bathroom, I finally made it out the door to work at 12.30 – 6 hours after being rudely awakened. I then had to sit in a pub for an hour to do the support workers’ wages. And missed the bank, so am now four days late in paying the direct payment tax bill.
The way I see it, meltdowns are a uniquely individual experience. Each person needs to be understood and generalisations are seldom helpful. In the week that Swansea council are planning to send Claire Dyer to Brighton because of her meltdown behavior, I suggest we get off the idea that the person is case study who can be ” righted” and think more about the support the person and their family need to live with this inevitability of the autistic condition.